SECESSION is an on-going project designed to re-shape and re-think the European space and project on the basis of translation, migration and hybridization.
The European Constituent Assembly
(Season 1 – Episode 2)
During the months preceding the destitution of the old powers, a debate had taken place that could be summarised by one slogan: ‘Book, Earth, Man’. From Spain to Greece, from Sicily to Poland, people began giving voice to this stunning triplet – with some variations meant to maintain good rhythm, to adapt the rhythm to different European languages.
But why this triplet in particular: ‘Book, Earth, Man’? To understand, it is necessary to go back to the business of the Transatlantic Treaty: the Commission, acting for States of the Union, was given a mandate to negotiate trade agreements.
In the name of the European people, it had undertaken to discuss a new free trade treaty with the United States with the aim of creating a big new market, from Los Angeles to Odessa, from Hawaii to the Caucasus. Following the founding treaties, the Commission had paid close attention to the lowering of Customs fees, to the harmonisation of regulations, to the ban on public policies. Thus it was that many fields of life, which had up to then been protected, either by laws, or by State intervention, were simply handed over to the principles of free enterprise.
It was ‘Book, Earth and Man’ which were being attacked in this way.
First, the book. Books had benefited from particular protection in certain European countries, but were now threatened with no more cultural exceptions, no more fixed prices, no more support for publishing.The book would from now on become a thing identical to all the other things. The market was moving, unchecked, towards an ontological equivalence of values in which all goods were equal.Any attempt to promote or to defend the book as having some special cultural value, was seen to be in violation of the laws of competition, and could well be attacked in a court of law. Knowledge became, in other words, a ‘means to the market’, a kind of brake on consumption.
This is what had been silently negotiated in the secrecy of several Euro-American conferences by the tireless civil servants of the Union. All working in good faith, with a desire for excellence, they had worked day and night to enable the giants of industry such as Amazon to conquer European markets.
If applied, the agreements issuing from the new Transatlantic Treaty would have led, over the course of several months, to the destruction of bookstores, the triumph of ‘easy-reading’, and finally, to borrow an expression of the time, to the Amazonian destruction of the European book.
The earth, too, was offered up by the negotiators. The giant companies manufacturing genetically modified seeds were rewarded for their efforts. Their intense lobbying and their scientific campaigns defended and financed by their departments of Research and Development triumphed over any last resistance.
Indeed these efforts, inspired by the tobacco industry’s years of experience in hiding the truth, now had a name: ‘agnotology,’ the study of techniques, particularly using the publication of misleading scientific data, aimed at producing ignorance or doubt.
The Commission in Brussels was the meeting place of these merchants of ignorance with their false studies, and more often than not the Commission accepted them, their resistance worn down or with their battalions of evaluators simply defeated.
Through technical agreements with the United States, the Commission was about to offer the cultivation of European fields to Monsanto, in particular, a company that had prospered during the Vietnam War by producing Agent Orange, and whose patented seeds led thousands of Indian farmers to commit suicide.
Unable to replant without having to pay royalties on the seeds, the Indian farmers were forced to sell their land to pay off their debts. Little by little, land was thus handed over to the market, and with it, different species of plants.
The patents on the seeds marked another step in the privatisation of public goods such as water, air, electric waves or nature. These entered, bit by bit, into the realm of things capable of being appropriated, and the Union congratulated itself.
It is a way, people said, to encourage research and investment. Wasn’t the desire for knowledge enough? No! Of course not. It was necessary in the end also to have the lure of huge financial gain.
And it was in the name of this reduced vision of man, the reduction of all to the thirst for wealth, that farmers risked being cut off from their ancestral ways, when yesterday’s harvests gave the means of tomorrow’s sowing.
Anger grew strongly the day the Commission updated the list of authorised and forbidden seeds within the Common Market. It did this in the name of the harmonisation of regulations. In the same directive, in a grand gesture of surrender, it authorised four new patented creations, notably MON 878 and Bt 879, and forbade 15 species free of rights, the latter being judged not to conform with the required size of some vegetables. It is then that the word ‘earth’ appeared in the slogans.
But of course it was not an ‘earth’ like in the old Maurassian choruses of taking root. The cry of ‘earth’ from then on referred to ‘’all species. ‘The earth’ was becoming subject to rights and susceptible to rebellion. And from then on those who used its name were its interpreters. They gave their voice to a wordless world: trees, plants, flowers, saying that this world belonged not to an industry but to humanity.
Then a stunning thing happened: farmers, publishers and writers found themselves using the same slogan. Book, Earth: ancient matters, common cultural territories, ploughing, hunger, bound together by intangible laws. It was from these two bodies that the third term of the revolt finally arose: an outdated word, on the verge of being overtaken by artificial intelligence – ‘man!’ He appeared in the voices and throats of the demonstrators.
‘Man’, this shepherd dispossessed of his world, upon which had fallen, little by little, the accountable, abstract laws of yield. ‘Man’, who had felt time slipping through his fingers and felt History escape him, or even the possibility of being able to write History. ‘Man.’ He was, according to the terms of the agreement, also delivered for sacrifice, bound hand and foot.
That is how the three objects came to be united in a single slogan. Three objects that each seemed to be anachronisms: the book, that old thing! the earth, this dead old thing! Man, this species doomed to death! In this conjunction three areas came to be mobilised: three human inertias pushed to walk, to act, the only ones left to accomplish a giant and monumental gesture: to impose the flux of presence, corporality, and hope that issued from their gathering onto the abstract, immaterial flows of a world of figures.
It was at the end of this business – the negotiation of the new free trade Treaty with the United States – that what had until then only been a fiction finally appeared: the European people, a muddle-headed, disorderly, noisy people, a nation beyond the nations, overwhelmed by years of crises, divided by language.
The voices of these yearning nations swelled. Simple passers-by, hitherto indifferent or resigned to their fate, joined the chorus and only a few months were necessary to obtain a general, collective resignation of the governments and representatives of the Union. A collapse? An impoverishment? Nobody knew which word to choose. People talked about requisitioning, or sometimes of a surge.
Since then, how many months have gone by? Time no longer seems the same in a period when History gets carried away. Days are months, months are years. Ideas are born and bloom in a few fractions of a second. At the time I write, the treaty is forgotten business.
The old commissioners are under house arrest, they are awaiting their trial. The district in Brussels where the old institutions were is a sight to see: the north wind blows along deserted avenues. The Union’s entire air-conditioned building of glass and steel is still there, abandoned.
Texts of directives, lobbyists’ files are scattered in the bare streets. Burnt-out overturned limousines have become the nests of migratory birds. Entire buildings have been looted and remain silent, their doors swinging from broken hinges.
And today, in the newspaper, there are incredible pictures: a gypsy camp, in front of the headquarters of the Commission, like an act of revenge! Just there, in the arch of the commissioners’ old palace, protected from the cold December wind, electric wires have been reconnected to the caravan refrigerators, children run between the flags of the nations and hide at the heart of the fountains.Hundreds of kilometres from there, the Assembly continues its task of reinvention and asks itself: ‘But if we are a people, what is our hope?’